Care Friends is a new mobile app developed by Neil Eastwood of Sticky People. The idea emerged from Neil’s research into social care recruitment and retention, where he repeatedly saw that employee referral and word of mouth was the best source of high-performing, long-staying care staff. He also found that most staff in the sector say they love their jobs and are pre-disposed to recommend it to others, but the number of referrals remained stubbornly low.
Upon researching employee referral schemes in both the care sector and other areas, Neil saw that the schemes themselves were often the issue. Staff had to fill in paper forms, weren’t aware of the benefits of referring friends, and it was an admin-heavy task. He decided to develop Care Friends to see whether this could help improve people’s use of employee referral schemes.
Testing the concept
Once the concept was refined, Neil ran a series of focus groups with care assistants, homecare staff and learning disability support workers. He also interviewed in-house recruiters, registered managers, directors and owners.
At the same time, he approached a company that had developed a similar app which they were testing in different sectors. They agreed to let him use it as a prototype to prove the concept in a pilot.
The app was trialled alongside Surrey Care Association, whose members gave feedback and one, Melody Care, went on to run a six-month pilot. That pilot and the feedback from the recruiter and staff helped inform the build of the Version 1 Care Friends app and, supported by the Cornwall Adult Health and Social Care Partnership, to win an EU grant to support a much larger beta trial in Cornwall in the Summer of 2019. That beta trial runs until December, with employers collecting data and providing feedback on the app.
How it works
Care Friends is made up of two main elements: an app that care staff download to their device and a web portal that in-house recruiters use to manage the employee referral scheme.
The entire system is built using the concept of gamification – introducing game-playing elements like earning points and competition with others for example – to make the process of referring people fun and engaging. A care worker would hear about the app from their employer and download it directly from their app store. They would enter a company code which identifies the company they work for and agree to the scheme rules. Then they share listed jobs with their friends and contacts either directly via SMS or What’s App, for example, or more widely via social media. They can personalise the message prior to sending. The recipient is sent a trackable link to open a brief expression of interest form to find out more. This both alerts the recruiter to contact them and awards points to the referrer automatically. A point is worth £1.
The recruiter is able to manage these referrals easily from their portal, send notifications to staff and track how well this cohort of applicants performs against other recruitment channels.
Points can be awarded to referring staff on key milestones in the referral process, such as sharing a job, receipt of an expression of interest, successful interview, starting work and their referral reaching 12 months’ employment. The system also offers a bonus of points if the referred starter is new to paid care work, thereby growing the social care workforce.
Managers are also able to award any staff bonus points as a way of motivating and engaging them. For example, as an instant thank you for picking up a dropped shift, for achieving their Care Certificate or for a compliment from a client.
Although the concept is relatively straightforward and the user interface for care staff is simple, the complexity behind the scenes to build a system that works for both single-site, small care providers and multisite, multi-million-pound employers is considerable. Neil says, ‘We had underestimated the sheer amount of bug-fixing and re-testing that a project like this requires. That has led to delays in launching and cost overruns, but this seems to be the experience of almost all start-up software suppliers in the care sector.
‘We had anticipated that replacing a previously manual, paper-based process with a digital one would require lots of thinking and effort to ensure care providers were supported to launch and familiarise their staff with the app. To overcome this, we have worked with an internal communications agency to produce a launch toolkit for employers and have used the latest guided navigation software to help recruiters get started. This has paid off. Focusing on successful implementation cannot be overstated.’
The early pilot activated a third of the workforce as recruiters in the local community and Care Friends is looking to improve on that in its beta trials. One unexpected success was relating to DBS checks. New starters were encouraged to download the app on acceptance of the job – so they still had to wait for DBS checks and references to come back. Neil says, ‘In social care, typically as many as half of this group would drop out prior to starting training. But when they downloaded the app, they started recommending their friends to join them and were much more likely not to drop out as they had started accruing points waiting for cashing in once they joined.’
Care Friends is hoping to be able to demonstrate metrics like whether referrals show up for interview more often, whether they are more likely to be hired, whether they stay employed longer and whether more people are being encouraged to work in social care.
The ultimate aim of the app is for Care Friends to make a meaningful impact on the current and future vacancy rate, on reducing the growing spend on temporary agency staffing and on improving retention rates both by bringing in high-quality new staff and by allowing managers to instantly recognise the contribution of staff. Neil continues, ‘There are many more exciting possibilities for the platform once it has scale, but for now we need to stay focused on ensuring the app delivers on its core purpose – to help solve the impending recruitment crisis.’
Over to the experts…
What are the considerations when looking at this technology? Do you think staff will use it? What could be the challenges of implementing this?